Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The big book of imaginary Sun readers

The Financial Times has been doing some analysis of who is most fed up with Labour and why, here and here. Amongst more affluent voters, Labour isn't actually doing too badly - levels of Tory support are nowhere near the levels that they were when the Tories were last in power.

It's amongst the less well off that there has been a much bigger swing. In 1997, over half of 'C2' voters ('White Van Man') backed Labour, now the Tories are actually leading amongst this group of people. Amongst the poorest voters, unskilled workers and the unemployed, Labour were 12% ahead in 2005, but are now level with the Tories.

This is a sign of how far New Labour has shifted from its early days. Back in the mid 90s, the key group of 'swing voters' which New Labour aimed to win over were skilled working class voters. They had been a part of the Labour core vote before 1979, but had switched to the Tories under Thatcher. The fact that more affluent voters also turned away from the Tories to support Labour at this point was nice, but these were never an essential part of the New Labour election-winning coalition.

In large part, the reasons for the swing against Labour is to do with the economy and people's earnings. The income of most poorer households has been falling since 2006, and even since 2001 most of the growth in the economy has found its way into the pockets of the better off, according to analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The average increase in incomes of Great Britain plc has been 2% per year over the last few years, but the median household has only been getting better off by 0.8% per year.

In addition, New Labour in government have some pretty strange ideas about what swing voters like and don't like. I got an e-mail from John the other day who referred to it as a strategy based on the 'Gollancz book of imaginary Sun readers' - giving bankers billions of pounds to try to keep house prices unaffordable for most people, giving public service functions to the private and voluntary sectors to run less effectively and/or at a higher cost, implementing the European Union's policy agenda such as closing post offices, making it easier for skilled migrant workers to come to the UK to compete for low wage jobs and letting violent criminals out of prison without serving their full sentences. Whatever the merits of any of these policies individually (and there are good technocratic or moral reasons to support many of them), they aren't exactly targeted at appealing to people who read the Sun.

The irony is that most leftie activists who are involved with groups like Compass or the Labour Representation Committee are totally against New Labour's approach of abandoning traditional Labour values to appeal to swing voters. And yet many of the policies which lefties support are actually much more in line with the priorities of the swing voters than either New Labour or David Cameron's Conservatives.

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